Feb. 4, 2011 -- In a sign that the government may be preparing criminal charges against John Edwards, federal prosecutors are seeking recorded testimony of 100-year-old multi-millionaire heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, ABC News has learned.
In an unusual twist, the prosecutors have requested that attorneys for Edwards also be present for the questioning. Mellon was informed of the request early this week. If she consents, the meeting would take place at Mellon's sprawling estate in Virginia, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
A federal grand jury in North Carolina has been hearing evidence in a wide-ranging probe of Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign and the alleged cover-up of Edwards' affair with videographer Rielle Hunter, who gave birth to Edwards' child in February 2008. Sources close to the case tell ABC News that a decision on whether to seek an indictment of Edwards is expected within the next few weeks.
Edwards has not commented publicly on the investigation since May 2009. In his statement then, he expressed confidence "that no funds from my campaign were used improperly." People Magazine last month quoted an unidentified source close to Edwards as saying, "John's optimistic nothing is going to come of it, but even if not, he's like, 'Let's get there, already.'"
Rachel Mellon has already been interviewed at least twice by investigators working on the grand jury probe, according to sources. Four of her relatives testified before the grand jury late last year, flying on Mellon's private jet from Virginia to North Carolina, where they were met by the FBI. If the government levels charges against Edwards, Mellon would likely be called to testify at trial.
Given her advanced age, taking her testimony now is an effort to preserve her statements in the event she is unavailable later, according to a person familiar with the strategy of the investigators. Involving Edwards' defense team - giving them an opportunity to cross-examine Mellon - increases the chances that her recorded testimony would be admissible in court.
Mellon, the widow of banking heir Paul Mellon, gave more than $4 million to organizations and political committees supportive of Edwards' bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination. She also sent a series of personal checks totaling more than $700,000 that her attorney has characterized as gifts intended for Edwards' personal use. According to former Edwards' aide Andrew Young, much of Mellon's money was ultimately used to support Hunter while she was in hiding. Young falsely claimed paternity of Hunter's child in 2007 but has since renounced that claim and accused Edwards of orchestrating an elaborate cover-up of the affair to protect his political aspirations.
Mellon's attorney, Alex Forger, who has also testified before the grand jury, did not respond to a request for comment. Forger has previously said that Mellon had done nothing wrong and was unaware of how her money was being used.
Wade Smith, an attorney for John Edwards, declined to comment.